Gluten-Free In School

Although school is first and foremost a learning environment where academic achievement takes priority, having Celiac definitely impacts a child’s experience at school. Of course, your child’s lunch must change once they have been diagnosed with Celiac. For younger children who are used to eating gluten containing lunches, this can be a bit of a shock.

After your child has been diagnosed with Celiac, you can get in touch with your school and find out if they offer gluten-free food for lunch. If so, question them on the variety of options they offer, and how they prepare the food to avoid cross-contamination (is it prepared in a separate area with separate utensils, etc.). If you feel comfortable with how your school prepares and serves its gluten-free food, go ahead and let your child order lunch. However, if your school can’t adequately accommodate your child, they obviously must bring their own lunch every day to school. This may be difficult to swallow for some parents who are always short on time and aren’t used to doing this, but it is of course necessary for the health and well-being of your gluten-free child. I recommend that you set up a routine, and pick a certain time every night or morning that works for you to prepare your son/daughter’s lunch.

Many schools have vending machines in their cafeterias, and they often have pre-packaged gluten-free snacks. These machines are a great way for your child to get quick safe snacks while they are at school. Of course, you should go over which snacks actually are gluten-free with your child before they buy one from the vending machine.

One of the most important things that you as a parent must communicate to your gluten-free child is that they should not be sharing food with other children at school, and that they should not accept food from other students unless it is pre-packaged. I say this because even if a food is inherently gluten-free, there is no way to know if your child’s friend just ate something with gluten, and by touching the food contaminated it (and most children are not aware of the severity of Celiac). Many children like to swap food while at lunch or share gum with their peers, but you must get your child to understand that they can’t do this unless 100% sure the food (or drink) involved is safe. Tell your child that if they eat a food containing gluten, it will cause bodily harm and likely make them sick. 

Furthermore, many children (especially younger ones) like to bring food to class for their birthdays or other school parties. Even though your gluten-free child will likely not be able to eat anything that any other student brings to class, you should send your child to school with something to eat for the party so they can fully participate and not feel so different or excluded. It is always a good idea to ask the teacher to let you know in advance of class parties.

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